The Oklahoma Legislature passed a law this year limiting the governor's appointment powers over a Native American education council. House and Senate leaders still have seven vacancies to fill on the 18-member council. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — As an advisory board on Native American education approaches a milestone year, the group is still hamstrung by a lack of members.
The 18-person Oklahoma Advisory Council on Indian Education has seven vacancies despite recent legislation intended to improve the member appointment process.
The council and the Oklahoma State Department of Education aim to make Native American education and related services more visible in public schools and tribes, said Jackie White, the state agency’s executive director of American Indian education.
White, who is Cherokee, is state Superintendent Ryan Walters’ designee on the council.
“I don’t want us to sit behind desks,” White said. “I want us to be out there (in schools).”
Next year will be crucial for Indian education with the state academic standards for social studies up for review. The social studies standards include tribal history, and White is in the midst of seeking input and lesson plans from the tribes.
Without more members, the council will struggle to fulfill its purpose as an advocacy voice in state government on matters affecting Indigenous students’ education. A recent count showed 158,000 Oklahoma students self-reported as Native American, White said.
The council now has 11 appointed members, a sufficient number to establish a proper majority, but few enough that only two absences derail the board from conducting official business.
That’s exactly what happened on Wednesday when nine of the council’s members gathered for an informal public meeting in Oklahoma City, one person short of being able to take any votes.
“I cannot officially do anything by vote until I have a quorum,” White said. “I’m hoping by November that we’ll have enough.”
It’s a familiar issue for the council and a problem lawmakers hoped to address this year.
Senate Bill 299 heavily curtailed the governor’s appointing power to the council and gave more authority to House and Senate leaders.
The bill’s author, Sen. Roger Thompson, said tribal leaders complained Gov. Kevin Stitt had left seats unfilled for years at a time. Thompson, R-Okemah, also noted Stitt’s combative relationship with the tribes over casino gaming negotiations.
But almost four months after SB 299 took effect, legislative leadership has seven council seats yet to fill.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, has made one of his six appointments, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, has filled four of his six. The governor, who previously had nine seats to appoint, has filled his one.
Both the speaker’s and the pro tem’s offices said they are in the process of choosing candidates to fill the remaining vacancies.
The Cherokee Nation recently suggested another name to McCall, said the tribe’s council representative, Corey Bunch.
The remaining appointees are selected by the chancellor of higher education, the state superintendent, the Department of Career and Technology Education, the state Regents for Higher Education, and the director of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority.
Wednesday’s meeting featured diverse tribal representation, with members from the Osage Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Choctaw Nation, Wyandotte Nation, and the Sac and Fox Nation.
“I’m excited to get started meeting with this group,” White said as the members gathered. “Look around the table, the faces of what we’re doing to provide education for our Native American youth.”
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